It was a surprise to learn that Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s ex-president, has been invited to be a keynote speaker on Friday at a conference titled “Latin America: The New Land of Opportunity.” It seems cruelly paradoxical that a man responsible for so much pain, uncertainty and loss could ponder the possibility of representing a guide for a prosperous future.
Uribe’s leadership left a legacy based on the “falsos positivos” scandal that involved the disappearances and deaths of young men passed as guerrilla members; the illegal surveillance of human rights defenders, journalists, Supreme Court judges and political opponents; the rise in the number of internally displaced persons to almost three million individuals; and, most recently, the discovery that the much-celebrated disarming process of paramilitary groups that occurred during his mandate was all a farce.
In light of such a collection of accomplishments, it is only fair to ask Uribe — is Colombia’s current situation the landscape of the “new land” he envisioned? How can he lecture on topics like economic opportunity when his achievements are being questioned in light of the confessions given by his former buddies (para-politicos, drug dealers, paramilitary leaders)? How can he talk about opportunity to young students here at Penn and other American universities, after eliminating the opportunities of young men and women in his own country?
Lina Martinez-Hernandez, Helena de Llanos and Seulki Choi Lee Doctoral candidates in the Romance Languages Department
Students who meet Uribe have an opportunity to ask about the scandals that cloud his legacy. He would like to be remembered as an effective president who brought increased security to a country held hostage by bloodthirsty rebels. But even many Colombians who welcomed the increased security believe that his vocal attacks on human rights defenders created a climate in which paramilitary massacres went unchecked.
On Uribe’s watch, the military was discovered to have killed civilians in repeated attempts to pass their bodies off as those of guerillas in the so-called “false positives” scandal. His hostility to journalists and others who have attempted to mount investigations of his administration’s alleged links to drug traffickers and paramilitaries, including the leading jurists of Colombia’s Supreme Court, and his seeming involvement in a cover-up of a wire-tapping scandal, have emboldened those who compare him to ex-president of Peru Alberto Fujimori, now in jail.
Uribe is on our campus, invited by members of the Penn community. We should ask him about the rule of law in Colombia. If ends do not justify means, and in democracies they cannot, then Uribe has a lot of explaining to do — whether here to Penn students or, in the future, to a judge.
Ann Farnsworth-Alvear History professor
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.